Aestheticizing Study – Artistic or Toxic?

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Most students have fallen down a ‘studytube’ rabbit hole at some point during their time in education. This has either resulted in a sudden burst of intense motivation to be your most productive self or you have spiralled into a state of self-hatred and unhealthy self-comparison. Study is increasingly becoming aestheticized on the online space, with the proliferation of Instagram and Youtube channels dedicated to the likes of ‘dark academia’. Although this may initially appear to be inspiring students to be productive and creative, there are concerns that it may be encouraging more toxic patterns of study.

When we are stuck in a study-rut, a good bit of ‘studytube’ watching can get that motivation flowing again. It can encourage you to reach for your dust-covered pencil case, hunt down some pastel highlighters and find that study zone. There is no doubt that study is a good thing; we are privileged to be at university and its great to make the most of this opportunity. Equally, many students are visual learners so making study notes ‘look pretty’ is an effective way to absorb knowledge. With study visuals such as dark academia conjuring a whole mood, immersing yourself in the colours, fashion and general vibes has the possibility to be transformative to one’s study habits. Why not transform something that was previously a chore into an artistic form of self-expression?

All that being said, the aestheticization of study can verge upon problematic. With that haunting neoliberal voice banging in our heads, constantly telling us we aren’t working hard enough, making study into an entire personality may be dangerous or at least perpetuate unhealthy ‘productivity’ narratives. With art being fused with productivity, it may be somewhat defeating the purpose of artistic expression; does art exist to free the individual from the stresses of everyday life? To rail against the status quo? To bring a moment of peace to the artist? Even art and creative expression is not free from the rationalising clutches of neoliberalism.

Maybe this is reading into study aesthetics too much, ignoring the very real benefits that emerge from creative study. It can be fun, vibrant, and inspiring. After all, who doesn’t want to do well in their exams? Even then, however, within the study online world, there is little recognition of the privilege that comes hand in hand with being able to embrace aesthetic study. Solid pens and highlighters are expensive, as is creating a motivating and artsy workspace. Also, making study aesthetic requires time – a precious resource that most of us don’t have enough of. Many students have to work part-time jobs to sustain their studies making finding the energy to throw themselves into a productive mood difficult. We’ve all seen those photos of an Apple MacBook neatly positioned on an oak desk, surrounded by gorgeous notes. Is this yet another unattainable standard imposed upon us by social media?

The online world is a strange place and aesthetic study may well be one of those phenomenon’s that exists solely in the technical sphere. However, as we approach exam season, stress, anxiety and feelings of inadequacy are naturally going to be rife. The last thing most students need right now is to feel bad about their non-aesthetic study. In an Instagram saturated world, it is becoming difficult to remember that real life is not filtered, it is not always ‘cute’, and it is far from aesthetically pleasing. It might be worth remembering that the next time we finish a short snack and study session at 2 am in our pyjamas.

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